When elite Philadelphia Episcopalians sought plans for a “correct” church in accordance with the new understanding of ritually appropriate form, they approached the Ecclesiological Society of Cambridge, England, for approved plans. G. G. Place made measured drawings of St. Michael's Long Stanton, Cambridgeshire, a thirteenth-century church thought to be of correct form and suitably scaled for a suburban setting. These drawings were shipped to Philadelphia and were followed, with minor emendations, in the construction of St. James the Less. The resulting building may fairly be said to have turned the American Episcopal Church away from the varied pagan forms of the Greek Revival toward the medieval roots of the English church. Built of local stone, its principal west facade is dominated by massive step buttresses that rise to the gable and stabilize an oversized bell-cote. Within, the long nave and deep chancel served the revived
Few American churches have had the influence of this building. Richard Upjohn, working at nearby St. Mary's in Burlington, New Jersey, spread its form across the northeastern United States; Philadelphia architects, including George Hewitt, made it a staple of their ecclesiastical work. The freestanding stone tower and belfry were added in 1908 by John T. Windrim for the Wanamaker family, several of whom are buried in its grounds.